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If you only use your browser to, well, browse the web, you have not yet begun to harness its power. Learn how extensions and bookmarklets can throw the doors of the internet wide open.
Your web browser can Google, it can YouTube, and it can even Twitter, but if that’s all you’re doing with it, you haven’t scratched the surface of its potential. A universe of extensions and bookmarklets is out there, and these free software add-ons give your browser the power to remove ads, reshuffle web pages to your liking, speed up your downloads, rip videos, and perform other wizardly feats. You can even get into the act with Mobile Safari on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already armed with a suite of your favorite extensions, our guide to the best browser add-ons will transform your time surfing. It’ll practically feel like magic.
It’s an exciting time to surf the web on a Mac. No, really! We’ve never had so many top-notch browsers to choose from. But as good as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are, each can be made even better with extensions. (Wondering what this extension business is all about? Navigate to our beginner’s guide.) The right extension can improve your browser’s existing features and even add new ones. We’ve picked the most useful extensions no Mac user should be without, and then we unearthed some hidden gems you that’ll help you work easier and play harder online.
Power Surfer’s Toolkit: You’ll surf smarter and faster with these must-have extensions. Don’t leave your homepage without them.
Save your current session or restore an old one.
This simple extension saves all tabs in a window (or just the ones you check) in sessions you can restore later. Sessions are saved with the date and custom names in a convenient dropdown window. Cooler still, FreshStart backs up all your windows and tabs at timed intervals to protect your browsing against crashes.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/ye7k4m6
Don’t like how a webpage works? Get Greasemonkey. With it and some of the thousands of Greasespot scripts available online, you can make your favorite pages do your bidding. Want to strip ads out of Facebook? There’s a script for that. And Chrome users, set your faces to smug–most Greasespot scripts install in your browser without any extra extensions.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox · greasespot.net
Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer
Chrome’s PDF support is a little…nonexistent. Bring Google’s shiny new browser into the 21st century with this extension that displays PDFs and PowerPoint files as Google Docs right in your Chrome window.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/ydx44tn
Shareaholic lets you broadcast to a zillion blogs and social networking sites, squash long URLs, and even email links to friends like folks did back in olden times. Don’t worry about running out of things to share—Shareaholic brings you the latest news from Twitter, OneRiot, and Buzzster as you browse.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox, Safari · shareaholic.com
Xmarks syncs and backs up bookmarks automatically across multiple computers and browsers. Better still, you can assign profiles (Work and Home, for instance) to browsers so only certain sets of bookmarks are synced. That’s handy if you don’t want business and pleasure links to mix on the same machine.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox, Safari · xmarks.com
ClickToFlash doesn’t just block Flash, it manages it. A click loads an individual Flash element, all Flash on a page, or adds the current domain to ClickToFlash’s list of unblocked sites with Flash content you want to play normally.
Compatible with: Safari · tinyurl.com/laoc8q
1Password is a Mac application and extension combo that saves login and form data as you surf, guarding it all with one password. It also generates strong passwords for secure sites and syncs them–with form data, credit card numbers, notes, and more–across multiple browsers and Macs. Better still, your sensitive data is secured in style with 1Password’s beautiful interface.
Compatible with: Firefox, Safari · agilewebsolutions.com
Grab a page’s downloads quickly and easily.
DownThemAll accelerates your downloads, retries stalled attempts, and grabs all a page’s downloadable files with just a few clicks. Oh, and that acceleration? Our demo download crept along at 40kbps until DownThemAll gobbled up the same file at a smokin’ 150kbps.
Compatible with: Firefox · downthemall.net
StumbleUpon helps you find sites you didn’t know you liked. Just browse normally and rate sites with a thumbs up or down, or browse StumbleUpon categories that interest you. Soon StumbleUpon will know enough about you to recommend web pages that are right up your alley.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox · stumbleupon.com
Always get the best deal.
Attention, Kmart.com shoppers–and shoppers at over 40 other online stores. PriceTrace Toolbar lets you instantly compare an item’s price, view price trends, and subscribe to price alerts with a click. If you want to save money, put PriceTrace on the case.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox · pricetrace.com
Cool Browser Tricks
You think different, why not browse different? After all, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all web.
Firefox Environment Backup Extension
FEBE backs up and restores Firefox extensions, bookmarks, passwords, and more to every computer in your life, saving time when fine-tuning multiple Firefox installs. You can copy your extras to local disks or send them to the cloud with built-in Box.net integration. There’s nothing feeble about FEBE.
Compatible with: Firefox · tinyurl.com/y9293md
This extension lets you subscribe to RSS feeds with a click in Chrome’s address bar. Google Reader is the default, but you can use Google, Bloglines, My Yahoo, or another online service to get your RSS fix.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/yjbshqs
Themes alter Chrome’s look to suit your mood–whether that means Mariah Carey or Infected Mushroom is your call. Find a look you like, click its Install button, and you’re good to go. When your mood changes, you can drop back to the default appearance in Chrome’s preferences.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/mucqd6
Send From Gmail
Send From Gmail lets you mail links to your current page via Gmail. Cooler still, it makes email addresses embedded in web pages launch a new Gmail window when clicked, instead of activating your old-fashioned desktop mail client. If you live in Gmail, Send From Gmail.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/ye2toyj
It’s like Exposé for your tabs–get it?
TabExposé tidies a window of cluttered tabs just like OS X’s Exposé cleans up your Desktop. A toolbar button (or customizable hotkey) sends your pages zooming into view. Your browsing will be so…how you say…elegant.
Compatible with: Safari · cocoamug.com
FastestFox is a potpourri of browser boosters that give you context-click web searches, Google search results in the address bar, a configurable bookmark launcher, and much more. Pick and choose which features you want and let your browser do the work faster.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox · tinyurl.com/af2v5t
Evernote Web Clipper
Evernote Web Clipper lets you add links, text, and images to your Evernote account from wherever you are on the web. Just don’t forget to check in with Evernote for OS X to get the big picture. Better write yourself a note to be sure.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox, Safari · tinyurl.com/m4z9gz
Google Mail Checker Plus
Google Mail Checker Plus’s toolbar icon displays your unread message count, new Gmail message alerts, and lets you preview new mail or mark it as spam. You can even load full messages in a mini-window and compose a reply without leaving your current page.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/yd8u55k
Tab Mix Plus
My name is Firefox, and I’m a tab-aholic.
Tab Mix Plus adds rows of tabs to Firefox windows, keeps track of unread tabs by styling their titles to stand out from the pack, and much more. Its session manager even saves your tabs for later when you can’t bear to close them. It’s a treasure trove of tab tools at your fingertips.
Compatible with: Firefox · tmp.garyr.net
Yoono lets you flit among multiple social networking and media sites in a collapsible sidebar where you can also search for YouTube videos, Wikipedia articles, and Amazon bargains while gabbing with friends. Why open another window again?
Compatible with: Firefox · yoono.com
If you use Google’s services regularly, put them all in a single window with Integrated Gmail. Just log in to Gmail and get Google Calendar, Maps, Notebook, and more through unobtrusive, collapsible icons. Why didn’t Google do this first?
Compatible with: Firefox · integratedgmail.com
Download a YouTube video or nine.
CosmoPod converts Flash and other non-QuickTime web videos to iTunes-compatible files–and even rips DVDs–in preset formats for the iPhone and other iDevices. Videos can be tagged before export to iTunes, and CosmoPod even recognizes your Elgato Turbo.264 devices to cut conversion times. Think of it as a little HandBrake DNA spliced into Safari.
Compatible with: Safari · cocoamug.com
FlashBlock lets you allow Flash on your current site, disable it entirely, and add sites to a list of sites with Flash content you want to allow. If you think Flash takes the shine off Chrome, FlashBlock is for you.
Compatible with: Chrome · tinyurl.com/ye5srym
Skin your browser with nifty designs.
Spice up Firefox windows with a persona makeover. These themes are easy to apply from getpersonas.com, but for more options, install the Personas Plus extension. It lets you switch personas right from your Firefox window.
Compatible with: Firefox · tinyurl.com/cu4y2b
RSS Ticker scrolls Live Bookmarks beneath your toolbar or at the bottom of the page. Mouse over items to see more information, then click to open the article in a new tab. You’ll never be at a loss for cocktail party conversation.
Compatible with: Firefox · tinyurl.com/5suwzf
Extend the search box beyond Google.
Glims adds multiple search engines to Safari’s search field, web page previews to Google search results, favicons to tabs, and a full-screen mode to Cupertino’s favorite browser. Features can be customized or turned off entirely to suit your needs.
Compatible with: Safari · machangout.com
LastPass secures usernames, passwords, and notes with one password—the last one you’ll ever need—to let you access them across multiple browsers in a friendly web interface. If you can’t run 1Password or you just want a free solution to your security needs, don’t pass on LastPass.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox, Safari · lastpass.com
Extend the search box beyond Google.
History Tree displays your history as a flowchart complete with screenshots, page names, and more. Search pages’ descriptions, reopen old pages in new tabs, and fine-tune your settings in a full-screen window. You’ll never look at browsing the same way again.
Compatible with: Firefox · tinyurl.com/n4svje
Install Adblock Plus, and your browsing will be free of unwanted ads. Block them all, Control-click specific ads to keep them from loading, or allow certain sites to keep displaying important messages from sponsors–like MacLife.com, for instance.
Compatible with: Firefox · adblockplus.org
Flip through images in Cover Flow fashion, thanks to Cooliris.
Cooliris turns YouTube, Facebook, Google Images, and other sites into Cover Flow–like 3D galleries. It even recognizes and displays your iPhoto library in the same slick style.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox, Safari · cooliris.com
Flip through images in Cover Flow fashion, thanks to Cooliris.
If Safari’s plain black View Source text has you seeing red, try SafariSource. It lets you customize source text and colorize tags, comments, and other elements to make them easier to read. If only learning HTML was this simple.
Compatible with: Safari · tinyurl.com/2pltoo
Share with your family, not random weirdos on Facebook.
Glubble is like your family’s private Facebook. Family members can log in to send messages, share photos, and schedule activities. Better yet, Glubble lets kids surf safely by limiting their access to sites that were approved by Mom and Dad.
Compatible with: Firefox · glubble.com
Because every page could use a little tinkering.
Firebug puts a web development toolbox in your Firefox window. Edit HTML, fine-tune CSS, and much more in a simple, easy-to-read interface. Now there’s no excuse not to write the next great American webpage.
Compatible with: Firefox · getfirebug.com
Three pages open side-by-side–looks a little odd, but maybe you’ll love it anyhow.
Why view just one page when Fox Splitter can divide your window into multiple panes with a click? Keep your web mail or calendar at the ready as you surf, compare multiple versions of the same page, or just make modern art as you browse.
Compatible with: Firefox · tinyurl.com/24n3ct
A dumping ground for tabs.
Don’t close tabs–tuck them away. TooManyTabs frees up RAM by letting you nest tabs in a special menu to retrieve and reload later. Chrome’s extension lets you search saved pages; Firefox’s offers better organization. Whichever you choose, you’ll be browsing better.
Compatible with: Chrome, Firefox · visibotech.com/TMTChrome
Like rabbits you pull out of your bookmarks toolbar, these little snippets of code have lots of useful tricks up their sleeves.
Share on Facebook
When you find a thought-provoking article, amazing video, or hilarious photo of a cat, click this bookmarklet for a pop-up window that lets you post a link to your Facebook profile, optionally adding your own two cents too. Use it judiciously–a handful of truly excellent links per week will make your friends think you’re King of the Internet. facebook.com/share_options.php
Make any site more readable–even MacLife.com.
This slick bookmarklet makes articles and other text-heavy pages easier on the eyes by stripping away all the ads and clutter, so you feel like you’re reading a document in a word processor. You even get to select the settings before dragging the bookmarklet to your toolbar. lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability
Ever surf to a page and notice something missing–that a controversial blog post has been pulled or the whole site has simply disappeared? Click the Wayback Machine bookmarklet to be transported to previous versions of that page, all courtesy of the Internet Archive. archive.org/web/web.php
Simultaneous translation, just like the UN.
The translation service Lingro.com offers two bookmarklets. The full-service one opens the page you’re viewing inside of Lingro.com, letting you click on any word to get a definition or translation. The quick-lookup version works the same but keeps you at the original URL and omits the full version’s toolbar. lingro.com/docs/browser-tools.html
This one is a big time-saver for bloggers. You highlight text on a page, click the Linkify bookmarklet, and you’ll see a pop-up of Google search results for that string of text. You click a Create Link button by the webpage you want, and the text is now a hyperlink to that page. It’s great for linking up the names of people and places in your blog posts. mattcutts.com/blog/linkify-the-best-bookmarklet-youre-not-using/
When you want to shorten a long URL for posting to Twitter, including in a blog comment or any other short-URL needs, just click the bit.ly bookmarklet to launch a new window with the URL all shortened and ready to go. bit.ly/pages/tools
Remove Bloat yanked the ads and video player off the MacLife.com home page for us. Oops.
Nothing’s more annoying than coming across a page with auto-playing music, obnoxious Flash-based ads, or other browser-slowing nonsense. Remove Bloat strips all that away with one click. cybernetnews.com/cybernotes-the-best-bookmarklets-for-your-browser
Clip to Evernote
Keeping track of all the information, links, images, and PDFs you want to save is easy with Evernote’s clipping-and-syncing service, which boasts Mac and iPhone apps (and Windows and Android and BlackBerry), along with the web app at Evernote.com. And the bookmarklet makes using Evernote even easier by adding selected text when you click it, or adding the whole page if you haven’t selected any text. evernote.com/Login.action
Instapaper and Read It Later
The pop-up lets you know Instapaper did its thing.
We can’t put one of these nearly identical services above the other. You sign up on the website, then drag the bookmarklet to your toolbar and click it when you’re on an interesting article or page that you want to keep to read later. Each service also has an iPhone app, a full-fledged Firefox extension, RSS feeds, Kindle integration, and more.
instapaper.com/extras · readitlaterlist.com/bookmarklets
If you don’t feel like signing up for your own account on a website, click the BugMeNot bookmarklet to log in anonymously with a public login and password created by the users of BugMeNot.com. bugmenot.com
Note in Reader
Google Reader has social features that let you share articles from your RSS feeds with your contacts and comment on them. This bookmarklet extends that to the whole internet, letting you share any URL without having to subscribe to its RSS feed first. googlereader.blogspot.com/2008/05/share-anything-anytime-anywhere.html
One of several useful Google bookmarklets, this one lets you select an address on the page you’re viewing and click to see that location pinpointed on Google Maps. googlesystem.blogspot.com/2007/07/useful-google-bookmarklets.html
Remember the Milk
An easily updated to-do list is the best way to ensure you use it.
Versatile to-do service Remember the Milk has a handy bookmarklet that launches a Quick Add dialog for adding a new task to your to-do list. rememberthemilk.com/help/answers/quickadd/firefox.rtm
iPhone and iPad Bookmarklets
As awesome as they are in your desktop browser, you can also bring the power of bookmarklets to Mobile Safari on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The installation can be a little trickier on these devices, but the right set of bookmarklets can add functionality that the iPhone OS lacks and really soup up your mobile browsing.
On your Mac, installing a bookmarklet is as simple as dragging it to your browser’s bookmarks toolbar. But since Mobile Safari doesn’t support such drag-n-droppery, you’ll need to work a little harder to get bookmarklets on your phone. The simplest way is syncing bookmarklets from a desktop version of Safari via iTunes. That works fine, but what happens when you come across something useful when your Mac is in another zip code? Thankfully, you can add bookmarklets directly on your device, though it is a little trickier.
Reorder your iPhone’s bookmarks to put bookmarklets on top.
To save a bookmarklet in iPhone OS, you’ll need to navigate to the address where it is located and tap the Plus icon to create a new bookmark. For sites that allow you to generate customizable bookmarklets that don’t have a single address, we found the easiest way to install them was to copy/paste the bookmarklet code into an email that you then access on the phone, pasting it into a new bookmark. Often, you’ll need to slightly modify the bookmarklet before it will work by tapping the Bookmarks icon, tapping Edit, and choosing your newly saved bookmark. Usually it’s just a simple matter of removing some extraneous text from the Location field of the bookmark. And while bookmarklets are freely available all over the internet, you can also buy an app like Tap Factory’s WebToolbox ($0.99) to browse and install a large collection of bookmarklets.
Once you’ve got your bookmarklets installed, using them on a device running iPhone OS is a snap. From a web page in Safari, just tap the Bookmarks icon and select the bookmarklet you want to activate. You might find it easier to collect all your bookmarklets in a single folder, or you can manually move them to the top of the Bookmarks list by tapping the Edit button and dragging them to a new location.
To get you started with bookmarklets on the iPhone, here are a few of our favorites:
Find In Page is probably the most popular bookmarklet for iPhone OS–versions of it can be found with a simple Google search. Find In Page allows you to search text-heavy websites to quickly find the exact information you’re looking for. It’s so simple–and useful–that it points out a glaring hole in Mobile Safari’s functionality.
Find In Page adds text search that should have been in Mobile Safari in the first place.
Dictionary.com offers a trio of bookmarklets for quickly looking up words via Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com, and Reference.com. Now you won’t have any excuse for misspelling antidisestablishmentarianism or not knowing a synonym for adventitious.
Like its Mac counterpart, Instapaper is one of our favorite tools for marking articles and websites to read later. There’s a dedicated iPhone app for reading your marked stories and a bookmarklet for use in Safari for tagging stories as you browse.
Lots of iPhone Twitter clients support bookmarklets. Some of our favorites include Tweetie, Twittelator Pro, and Twitterific. All of them let you tweet links to whatever you’re currently reading with a single tap.
As it does on the Mac, Readability strips web pages down to the bare bones, which is even more of a relief on the iPhone’s screen. It’s a great tool for quickly removing images, styles, and other extraneous elements from articles online.
The popular link-shortening service bit.ly offers a Shorten with Bit.ly bookmarklet that’s every bit as useful in iPhone OS as it is on your Mac. We like to use it for quickly firing off complicated links via text message, which are faster than email and show up to the recipient as instantly clickable links.
The Beginner’s Guide
Master the basics of extensions and bookmarklets in a flash. (No, not that Flash.)
Before you install your first extensions and bookmarklets, take a minute to learn more about them and how they can help–or hinder–your surfing.
What are extensions, exactly?
Extensions are small programs that run inside your browser to add to, replace, or improve its features. Because each browser has its own way of talking to extensions, an extension written for one browser won’t usually work with another.
How do bookmarklets differ from extensions?
Where can I get them?
Download thousands of extensions from the official Firefox (tinyurl.com/yr5dxm) and Chrome (tinyurl.com/ygy8qkj) websites. Safari extensions are fewer in number and a little harder to find, but sites like pimpmysafari.com can make your search easier. For bookmarklets, try marklets.com, pimpmysafari.com/bookmarklets, squarefree.com/bookmarklets, or operawiki.info/BookMarklets.
Why aren’t there as many extensions for Safari as there are for other browsers?
Short answer: Steve likes it that way. The long answer is Firefox and Chrome come from a tradition of open-source software in which anyone is welcome to expand on a program’s features. Apple disagrees, but that hasn’t kept developers from bringing great extensions to Cupertino’s browser. Someday Apple may change its mind and make Safari easier to tinker with, but we’re not holding our breath.
Chrome is highly extendable.
Are extensions and bookmarklets safe?
Most are harmless and work as advertised. But as with any software, they can have security flaws that may be exploited for nefarious purposes. However, you’re less likely to encounter hackers and more likely to run into headaches over extension conflicts when two or more extensions interfere with each other’s functions.
Your best bet is to download extensions and bookmarklets from trusted sources, check user comments before you download, and avoid being the first person to install one if you can help it. Be sure your browser and all extensions are updated to the latest version too. Updates not only bring you the latest and greatest features, they often plug security and compatibility holes.
How do I organize or turn them off?
Firefox and Chrome offer extension-management tools that let you easily disable, uninstall, and update your extensions. In Firefox, select Tools > Add-ons, and click the resulting window’s Extensions button to see which extensions are installed and alter their settings. To do the same in Chrome, select Window > Extensions, and a list of your installed extensions will open in a new tab.
Because Safari lacks this centralized approach, users must manage extensions individually, and that’s not always easy. Some Safari extensions can be turned off or uninstalled from within their preferences, but many require finding and deleting files in the Finder. The developer’s website or the Read Me files that came with the extension will usually offer specific instructions.
If you don’t want to use a bookmarklet, simply don’t click it or just delete it from your bookmarks.
Manage your Firefox extensions from Tools > Add-ons.
How many can I install?
You can install as many extensions as you want, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. An active extension uses your Mac’s valuable RAM just like any application does. Running too many at once can lead to sluggish surfing or even crash your browser. And the more extensions you install, the greater the risk that some will conflict with each other. So read the developer’s notes and use common sense when adding bells and whistles to your browser. You probably don’t need to run half a dozen mouse-cursor managers all at once, for instance.
On the other hand, bookmarklets work across more browsers, and opting to use them instead of installing an extension can keep your browser lighter and speedier. So go crazy with these bad boys.